It is with incredible sadness that Health Quality BC acknowledges the passing of Doug Cochrane. Read our media release here.

For those who wish to share memories or leave messages of condolences you can do so here.

Hear our CEO, Christina Krause, on CBC’s Radio West with Sarah Penton, as she shares heartfelt reflections on the profound and enduring impact Doug had on her life and the health care system – Listen Now.

At both a national level and in British Columbia, few have done more to ensure people are safe and experience high quality care than Doug. He was pioneer and one of the key founders of the patient safety and quality improvement movement in Canada.

Let’s look back at his time as Chair of the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council, now Health Quality BC, with the following content, originally written in 2019.

On September 30, 2019, Doug Cochrane’s time as chair of the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council came to an end. He held the position since our organization was formed in 2008 during which he had a tremendous impact on our staff, our work and our province’s health care system. To celebrate his time as chair we’ve created this blog post highlighting his time at the Council.

In the Beginning…

Our story traces back to 2005, when, in response to the landmark Canadian Adverse Events Study, the Ministry of Health launched the BC Patient Safety Task Force to improve patient safety throughout the province. Doug, who at that time was the vice president of medical affairs, quality, safety and risk management for the Provincial Health Services Authority, was tapped to chair the task force.

Perry Kendall

The task force went on to create and implement the BC Patient Safety & Learning System (BCPSLS), support implementation of Safer Healthcare Now! – which was the first national quality and safety campaign in Canada, and help support disclosure training for health care providers across the province.

During this time, Doug’s leadership in two particular areas stood out to Perry Kendall who, as BC’s provincial health officer, also served on the Patient Safety Task Force.

“I was always impressed by his dedication to patient safety and his engagement with the patient voice,” Kendall said.

At the end of its five-year mandate, the task force recommended to then-Minister of Health George Abbott that a new, permanent organization be created to lead British Columbia in health quality. The BC Patient Safety & Quality Council was born and, according to Abbott, it was clear who would take the helm.

“There was remarkably little debate at the ministry about who should lead the new Council: Doug Cochrane was everyone’s first choice!” Abbott remembered. “I had talked with Doug on a few occasions during my travels as minister and was highly impressed by his knowledge, vision and candour.”

George Abbott
Photo credit: Technical Safety BC

Doug immediately began building an organization which could lead and support work within the system to improve quality of care. This included creating the BC Health Quality Matrix, which continues to provide a common language and understanding about health care quality for the province, and creating the Health Quality Network which, for the first time, connected organizations in the province who shared an interested in patient safety and quality.

“We needed to hit the ground running so that we could begin supporting improvement in BC and building a community of people championing quality in their organizations,” said Christina Krause, our CEO as well as Doug’s first hire for our organization. “His guidance in our early days helped us do exactly that, and it created a foundation for the Council that propels our work to this day.”

Doug’s direction at that time also stood out to Abbott, who added, “BC is a better place thanks to Doug’s excellent and inspired leadership!”

Those Red Shoes

We’re proud of our organizational culture. We strive to foster teamwork, respectful dialogue, psychological safety as well as a healthy balance of work and fun. And we pursue excellence every day as we work side-by-side with our partners with compassion and collaboration.

Well that culture starts with Doug, who has led our organization since 2008 with a special blend of common sense and approachability.

Chelsea Hochfilzer

“Doug has an incredible way of making each of us feel welcome and important,” said Chelsea Hochfilzer, who has worked with us since 2012. “His warmth, sincerity and dedication have translated into how we collaborate with each another and our partners. They’re felt in the deep sense of ambition and responsibility we have in all aspects of our work. Through Doug’s leadership we’re able to truly celebrate and find joy in our achievements, without taking our foot off the pedal.”

Speaking of feet, Doug’s shoes are a great example of how he has shaped our culture. Really!

Putting our best foot forward at the Quality Forum

Converse’s Chuck Taylor-style shoe has long been a symbol of change. That spirit speaks to our soul so, before Quality Forum 2015, many of our team members decided to walk the walk. We wanted our shoes to symbolize something different, something new, a visual signal for the change we must see in our system. Many of us wore our best Chuck Taylors – including Doug. He led the way, often wearing his red pair with suits and, in doing so, giving us all the confidence to take such a bold step.

Doug has long been interested in how surgical team culture can impact patient safety so it may not be surprising to hear of his effect on our organization. But according to our Christina Krause, our CEO, it’s something that comes naturally to him.

Christina Krause & Doug Cochrane

“It’s the little things he’s always done. It’s welcoming a new team member the first time he has a chance to meet them, it’s joining a staff trivia or murder mystery night, and it’s approaching difficult conversations with respect and sincerity. They add up and influence our entire organization so that everyone contributes to making it a driving force for quality health care.”

Doug will leave behind many legacies within our organization. Among them, he was the catalyst behind an organizational culture that has empowered the big-thinking and creative problem-solving we need in order to achieve system-wide impact. As Chelsea noted, “We’re going to miss him very much!” 

Always a Teacher

Doug has been teaching emerging leaders and future surgeons for almost four decades, first at the University of Calgary and then the University of British Columbia, where he is currently a Professor Emeritus within the department of surgery. During that time he built interactive teaching programs for parents whose children have brain tumours or congenital malformations of their skulls and brains, developed quality/risk assessment frameworks for surgical and medical care, and taught teamwork and non-technical skills in addition to pediatric neurosurgery.

Jenna Smith-Forrester

Along the way he’s had a significant impact on students and teaching colleagues. For example, over the years Doug has strongly supported UBC’s chapter of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Open School, a program which gives students training and practical opportunities in quality improvement.

It was through the Open School that Doug, who recently retired from clinical practice as a pediatric neurosurgeon, met Jenna Smith-Forrester, the chapter’s past president. Jenna credits him with inspiring her to combine her passions for quality improvement, surgery and the neurosciences.

“Every so often someone’s influence gives you that extra motivation to pick yourself up and push your own limits, to see what you are really capable of achieving. For me, that was Doug,” Jenna said. “I start my neurosurgery residency on July 1 and could not be more grateful for mentors like Doug who so graciously reminded me that the only limits are the ones I place on myself.”

Lawrence Yang

And do you remember Doug’s red shoes? Well they tend to stand out and when Lawrence Yang, a family doctor in Surrey who was also wearing red shoes at Quality Forum 2017, noticed Doug’s pair he knew they needed to connect. Doug took the time to support Lawrence’s growth as a physician and personal well-being.

“I’ll never forget the time he has taken to show care for me, encourage me to lean into my change agency and prioritize self-care for myself and my colleagues,” Lawrence added.

Lawrence later enrolled in our Clinician Quality Academy program, where Doug teaches about becoming a clinical leader in improvement work. Lawrence saw firsthand Doug’s “profound ability to lead and inspire others as he models deep listening, humility, optimism and powerful compassion for humanity.”

Dan Skarlicki

Doug’s impact also extends to hundreds of graduates of the Physician Leadership Program, which we proudly collaborate on with UBC’s Sauder School of Business and Faculty of Medicine, BC’s health authorities and Doctors of BC’s Special Services Committee. Doug is an Academic Program Lead and teaches participants about health care leadership.

“Doug personifies the qualities of the quintessential leader with his wisdom, generosity, humility and dedication to developing leadership in health care in BC,” said Daniel Skarlicki, the Edgar Kaiser Chair of Organizational Behaviour at the Sauder School of Business. “Doug has made and continues to make a tremendous impact not only on the program but on me personally.”

Leadership in Quality

Our organization has evolved quite a bit since we were established in 2008! This growth has been guided by our Council, which features nine members with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. We strongly believe that diverse voices generate better solutions and ideas, and Doug has adeptly steered the Council forward, according to Brian Stamp, who was a member from 2008 to 2016.

Brian Stamp

“Doug provided formidable insight and strong guidance into creating what the Council has become – an acknowledged and respected leader in the field of quality and safety in health care,” Brian said. “He is an articulate and passionate advocate of its mission and his leadership has been invaluable.”

Doug’s leadership has also extended beyond the formal responsibilities that come with being the Council’s chair. He’s a fixture at our full-team meetings and  gives stirring pep talks the night before the Quality Forum begins. He’s even a regular participant in our organization’s randomized coffee trials, a program we launched that connects pairs of colleagues so they can get to know each other better.

“One of my first RCTs was with Doug” remembers Jennie Aitken, a leader with our health system improvement team. “As a new staff member, I was a bit terrified to meet him one-on-one! When he called me for our chat, it was clear that he had already taken time to learn about my projects and work history – even that I’m an avid mountain biker. His genuine curiosity made me feel like anything I had to say had value.

Jennie Aitken

“Since then, I’ve been able to spend quite a bit of time with Doug. Each time, it feels like he goes out of his way to encourage me to authentically contribute. When I think about what psychological safety feels like, even when there are significant power differentials, I think of my interactions with Doug. This – combined with his uncanny ability to inspire people and organizations to be better – is the reason his leadership at the Council has catalyzed so many improvements in the health system.”

We agree with Jennie! In particular, Doug’s leadership was vital in our efforts to support hospitals across the province to achieve significant improvement in surgical care, and in designing our Clinician Quality Academy, whose 70 graduates are now leading improvement in their practices and organizations.

And that’s why in 2019 we renamed one of our Quality Awards categories in his honour. The Doug Cochrane Leadership in Quality Award celebrates someone who made an inspirational, significant and sustained contribution to improving the quality of health care in British Columbia.

It was the least we could do to recognize the impact his leadership has had on our staff, our organization and BC’s health care system.

11 Years of Impact

We’ve had the opportunity to tell you how Doug has supported our staff, Council members, organization and partners to improve quality of care for British Columbians. Whether you consider his role as a pediatric neurosurgeon, as Chair of our precursor – the BC Patient Safety Task Force, as Professor Emeritus at UBC, or as our Chair (among many others!), the number of patients whose care he has impacted is impossible to count.

With Doug’s guidance, and in partnership with numerous partners over the past 11 years, we’ve been able to support the health care system to improve patients’ access to surgery, reduce or discontinue antipsychotic medication prescriptions and help patients have a voice in their health care system. We’ve encouraged the health care system to ask, “What matters to you?” and celebrated the accomplishments of some incredible people and projects along the way. We couldn’t have done it without him.

In 2016, Doug warmly welcomed Johanna Trimble, a patient partner, to the Council. Johanna went on to serve as a Council member for two years, and we’re thankful to have worked with her on many of our initiatives over the years through her role as a member of the Patient Voices Network. It should come as no surprise that someone who describes Doug as “the kindest man I’ve ever met” praises his ability to put patients and families at the centre of their care.

“He is, without any doubt, passionate about including patients and family as part of the ‘team,’ Johanna said. “But above all, his personal integrity is unshakeable and obvious to all who come in contact with him. He earns the trust of those around him not just by talking the talk and walking the walk, but by who he is.”

Adrian Dix, BC’s Minister of Health, recently reflected on Doug’s role:

“Dr. Doug Cochrane has played an instrumental role as chair of the BC Patient Safety and Quality Council for the past 11 years, where he used his breadth of experience to improve how health workers provide care to patients,” Dix said. “Through his time at the Council, Dr. Cochrane has brought meaningful change to B.C.’s health-care system and has inspired others to do the same.

“Now that he closes this chapter of his life, he is leaving behind a legacy of dedication and engagement that I know the talented people at the Council will take over. Our province will continue to benefit from his tremendous experience and knowledge as board chair at Interior Health and Professor Emeritus at UBC.”

There’s no doubt that Doug’s impact on patient care in our province will continue for decades to come.